The children’s commissioner for England is to be given greater
independence under a government amendment to the Children Bill to
be debated in the House of Lords this week.
Concerns had been raised that the commissioner, who will also
represent children elsewhere in the UK in relation to non-devolved
issues, would have less powers and independence than the children’s
commissioners in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The amendment, tabled by Sure Start minister Baroness Ashton,
states that where the commissioner is concerned that a child’s case
raises issues of public policy relevant to other children, he or
she may initiate an inquiry.
However, the commissioner must still consult the secretary of state
beforehand and ensure the inquiry would not duplicate work carried
Children’s minister Margaret Hodge told the education and skills
select committee last week that the amendment was proof the
government was listening to concerns raised during House of Lords
debates about whether the commissioner post was sufficiently
independent. However, she stressed that the commissioner would
still be prohibited from being involved in individual complaints as
there were already ombudsmen, tribunals and courts to deal with
Andrew Cozens, president of the Association of Directors of Social
Services, welcomed the move but said there were still further
discussions to be had around the commissioner role.
Government amendments to bring youth offending teams into the heart
of the proposed children’s services reforms were also tabled for
These include adding Yots to the list of “relevant partners” with
which the proposed children’s services authorities must co-operate
to improve the well-being of children, and making them members of
the proposed Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards.
Although Hodge has not hidden the government’s desire for Yots to
be involved with children’s trusts, the original draft of the bill
did not include them as relevant partners and the document
published alongside the bill suggested that their inclusion in
children’s trusts would be down to local discretion.
The Department for Education and Skills is also believed to have
accepted the argument for a single children’s services plan
covering all services in an area, rather than a plan covering just